by | Oct 3, 1989 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I sit in my bleacher seat, staring blankly at the field. I am the fan without a team. I am the neutral man.

“Choose me,” says the voice from Toronto.

“Choose me,” says the voice from Chicago.

“Say hey, go with the Bay!” coo the voices from San Francisco and Oakland.

I yawn. I stretch. I have a pennant with no insignia. I am searching for a team in these baseball playoffs. I am the neutral man.

Show me something.

“All right,” says the voice from Chicago, in full Midwestern twang. “How about this? If you root for the Cubs, you will be joining a long and honorable army of fans, who have been without a World Series winner since the days of Orville and Wilbur.”

“Is that supposed to get me excited?” I say.

“Come on,” says the voice. “What fun is it to root for winners? Jump on the underdog of the century. Remember a few years ago, when you rooted for the star-crossed Red Sox? The Red Sox look like Mike Tyson compared to us. Losing? Heck, we invented losing. Right after we invented meat-packing.

“We have Harry Caray, who sings the national anthem, loses his voice — and then proceeds to broadcast the games. We have Don Zimmer, a manager who looks like Curly from the Three Stooges — on his good days. On his bad days, he looks like a gerbil.

“We have Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams. We have Wrigley Field! Historic, magnificent, wonderful Wrigley Field!”

“Hmm,” I say. “The one with no lights, right?”

“Uh, well . . .” says the voice. The bays? ‘No,’ I say

I remain unmoved. I am one of millions. Most baseball fans have lost their teams by now. Think of all those New Yorkers with no one left to root for. Think of the Los Angelenos with no one left to cheer. We are the swing vote in this thing. We are the “country” they refer to when they say “The whole country is behind this team.” Remember what we did for the Dodgers last year? Remember what we did for the Twins the year before?

“Ahem,” says the voice from San Francisco, “may we present our case?”

“You may,” I say, popping open my Crackerjack.

“What could be more lovable than a World Series in Candlestick Park? What could be more fitting than Kevin Mitchell pounding his way to a World Series championship? What could be better than seeing Roger Craig win one without Sparky?

“And besides,” says the voice, dropping to one knee, as voices will do,
“what could possibly top the Dave Dravecky story? Comes back from cancer, pitches again, breaks his arm — all in an effort to get his team to this glorious moment.”

“No fair getting sentimental,” I say.

“Worth a shot,” mumbles the voice.

“STOP!” interrupts the voice from Oakland. “I’ve got a story that will break your heart.”

I reach for the mustard. “Go ahead,” I say.

“All right. Once upon a time there was a mighty team. Cocky. Strong. They came to the World Series against a lowly opponent that had a linguine-eating manager and a crippled star who never learned to shave. It was a sure thing for this mighty team. Victory was theirs.

“And what happened?’ I say.

“They lost. In five games. One minute the World Series was there, and the next minute it was gone. Their arrogance had betrayed them; their bats turned to waffle sticks. They spent the next year in mourning, dressed in black — with some occasional green and yellow. But now . . . now they have returned, hungry, repentant, humble. They have earned this championship. They are . . . the Oakland Athletics.”

“The team with 1-900-DIAL-JOSE?”

“Well, uh . . .” says the voice. Right idea, wrong ball

Show me something. That’s all the neutral man needs. An honest face. A wonderful swing. A pitcher who delivers the ball so weirdly, you have to root for him. A manager who argues with such charm and lack of drool you have to go his way. Give me a city. Give me a cause. Give me–

“Toronto,” says the last voice.

“Toronto?” I say.

“Toronto’s your team. Not only will you be rooting for a team, you’ll be rooting for an entire country. When was the last time a Canadian team made it to the World Series? Never, that’s when. It’s time to make this an international event.”

“Toronto?” I say.

“We have the manager angle: Cito Gaston gets job for a week, lasts whole season. We have the player angle: Mookie Wilson, beloved Met, comes to Canada and finds new life.”

“Toronto?” I say.

“We have the team angle: Team of chokers, finally wins big one.”

“Toronto?” I say.

I’m sorry. I just don’t see it. Not Toronto. Too weird, eh? And that Oakland thing? Doesn’t ring true. San Francisco? I don’t know. San Francisco has everything. A World Series plus a Super Bowl? That’s like lending five bucks to Donald Trump.

And let’s face it, the only fun in the Cubs is that they’re such good losers. Winning would ruin it.

“Well,” say the voices, “who will you root for?”

I gaze out at the empty baseball field. I rise to my feet. I rip open my shirt and reveal a huge Pistons emblem inside.

I am from Detroit.

I’m rooting for basketball season.


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